Measuring youth exposure to alcohol marketing on social networking sites: Challenges and prospects

Digital/Social Advertising Trends Assignment

by Bianca Bianchi & Vanessa Zdesar

Social networking sites (SNS) have transformed the way we connect with our friends, family and  the rest of the world. With all of this, the innovated web has also changed the way we are exposed to advertising. Corporations have changed their marketing strategies to adapt to the new “Web 2.0” era, which relies mostly on online content and social networking sites to spread brand awareness. Advertising on social networking sites (SNS) has embedded itself in our conversations and connections online; what was once a billboard ad has now become a viral video that people share amongst their network of friends. People today–the youth market in particular–spend a majority of their free time on the Internet and its various SNS, like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Alcohol brands have harnessed the accessibility of SNS and online advertising to become pioneers in the social media marketing industry. Therefore, beer and liquor companies are targeting both their current customers and future (hopeful) customers. David Jernigan and Anne Rushman’s 2013 article, “Measuring youth exposure to alcohol marketing on social networking sites: challenges and prospects” argues that the lack of monitoring on SNS advertising has resulted in alcohol brands normalizing alcohol consumption at a much earlier age than ever before.

Studies done in the past have examined the effects of exposure to alcohol marketing on the youth, but Jernigan and Rushman’s study is the first to examine these effects on the digital, rather than traditional, platform. In the past, traditional mediums like television and radio were used to advertise alcohol brands. However, we have entered the “web 2.0” era, the interactive world of social media. Not only do consumers of all ages spend more time on the internet than before, but now over 75% of teens ages 13-20 use SNS, where the majority of alcohol advertising is done. Jernigan and Rushman’s study entailed analyzing the Facebook activity of 15 alcohol brands surveyed to be the most popular among 13-20 year olds. This was done with the help of an app the authors licensed called CrowdTange. With this app, Jernigan and Rushman were able to monitor the Facebook activity of these 15 brands, both in terms of brand activity and user engagement (i.e. posting, ‘liking’, sharing within the brand’s Facebook page). The three figures below show that by 2012, user engagement on Facebook for these top alcohol brands exploded.

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While most SNS restrict alcohol branded pages to those under 21 in the US, it is likely that users create social media accounts with false ages. Furthermore, these sites are so poorly monitored that alcoholic content not suitable for minors is easily accessible. YouTube, for example, requires a date of birth to create an account and view age restricted material, but teens can easily view the same material from an unofficial page that another user uploads. When creating a Twitter profile, the site does not request a date of birth; therefore, even if different pages within twitter request age verification, it is easy to lie. Once a user puts in the information for one page, it is saved for further pages that normally require age verification. Clearly, it is so easy to circumvent the measures SNS have taken to try and prevent the youth market from being exposed to alcohol marketing.

Not only is SNS content so accessible, but it is easily shared and spread to other underage audience members. In the example below, user-uploaded photos on Bud Light’s Facebook page depict  youthful looking drinkers. The snapshot below is a recent example of Bud Light encouraging user-uploaded photos. While this is simple post of a guy relaxing with a beer, the article explains “Treasury Department’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), ruled in a recent circular that alcohol-branded SNS pages and channels are advertisements” (Jernigan and Rushman. 100). Therefore, a simple post on Bud Light’s fan page is considered an advertisement, one that could be easily exposed to the youth market. With over 9,000 likes, this activity shows up on users’ newsfeeds. Furthermore, the 1,120 shares implies that these photos are now on thousands of profiles. Not only is this free advertising for Bud Light, but also a loophole to access the youth market. Once the image is on someone’s personal Facebook wall, his or her whole network is exposed to the Bud Light image (essentially, the ad). The image and its caption “Nothing feels better than Friday at 5” are very ambiguous signifiers. By making a very simple post that almost any adult can associate with, the image becomes ‘shareable.’


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The next example of easily accessible youth marketing of alcohol brands is on Twitter. Twitter only requires age verification when visiting a public page of an alcohol brand. Again, because of the ability to forge one’s age, all content, including tweets and pictures, is accessible to all users regardless of age and whether or not they are following the brand. The image below is an example of an alcohol brand, Four Loko, taking advantage of the accessible youth market. Because Twitter is a social platform, fans can retweet Four Loko’s tweet and it becomes an advertisement available to all ages through SNS. The title of their profile says “you must confirm you are of legal drinking age.” Although, their tweet from March 25th responds to fan tweets and insures that the company will “continue to bring our loyal fans the products they LOVE!” By talking to the fans directly, this tweet has a sharable quality in it that result in fans retweeting this message and sharing it with their followers. In addition to the tweet being a promoted (paid advertisement), the #FourLoko is a hyperlink that could easily become a trending topic on Twitter.


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YouTube also require age verification before viewing a branded alcohol page. However, because YouTube is a video-sharing platform, age verification is not required when videos are on unofficial channels. The example below is a Budweiser Superbowl commercial that is now on the beer’s YouTube channel. To view the video through Budweiser’s account, age verification is required (though easily forged). However, when shared and embedded onto other web 2.0 pages, the video becomes available to all ages. The commercial itself is a cute story of a love between a horse and a puppy. Therefore, the content was very sharable and was discussed among all SNS and news blogs, resulting in over 50 million views.


This scholarly article concludes that with “all of these SNS, with varying levels of ease, it appears that underage users can access alcohol content” (Jernigan and Rushman. 100). Each site that requires age verification simply asks a user to input his/her year of birth. Although third-party software exists that is able to generate–through the use of outside information–a user’s true age, it is simply not being put to use. Therefore, the lack of regulation suggests that alcohol brands are in control of capitalism in our current society. When reading this article, we (Vanessa and Bianca) agreed that the easily accessible alcohol advertising is embedded in the web because these brands appear throughout multiple channels of contemporary culture. Through sponsoring popular sports, fashion and music events and generating viral content, these brands are now attached to a valued lifestyle that are discussed on the web 2.0. Through this strategy, the youth market described in this article is exposed to alcohol consumption in almost every aspect of digital culture. Alcohol brands are exploiting personal SNS accounts as free advertising through producing content that can easily go viral. Jernigan and Rushman state that these trends need to be monitored and regulated. However, alcohol brands’ involvement with almost every aspect of culture makes it almost impossible to control. The youth market is an attractive group to target. While 13 to 20 year olds cannot legally purchase alcohol, the advertisements on social media platforms can influence their purchasing decisions in the future and build loyalty to brands (and lifestyles). Young adults spend disposable income on alcohol and will need help deciding what brand is cool. By attaching alcohol brands to popular discourses among youth culture, these SNS advertisements promote alcohol consumption as normalized and glamorized lifestyles.


Work Cited

Jernigan, David H., and Anne E. Rushman. “Measuring Youth Exposure to Alcohol Marketing on Social Networking Sites: Challenges and Prospects.” Journal of Public Health Policy 35.1 (2013): 91-104. Print.


‘Eating Your Feelings’



Lindt Truffle

Most people (myself included) can admit that they have a soft spot for chocolate. There is nothing better than treating yourself to a sweet snack. However, in advertising, the simple pleasure of indulging in sweets has transformed into a sexualized fantasy as if it is out of a romance film. The YouTube (also shown on TV) ads displayed above are examples of chocolate and coffee companies targeting women by suggesting that their problems and insecurities can be resolved through consuming unhealthy snacks, or what I call, eating their feelings.

The Dove, Nespresso, and Lindt commercials (shown above) all share the feature of paralleling the product to a young attractive male figure in the setting of a romance film. However, instead of courting the woman romantically, he is serving her the satisfaction of indulging in sweets. As a result of this, the beautiful models are women who appear happy and independent. All three products appear as exotic or international by attaching cultural and stereotypical themes to their ads. The final common theme they all share is the product (either chocolate or coffee) is displayed as the desirable object. For example, the slow-motion pour of coffee in the Nespresso ad does not send a merely literal message. Above all, the slow sensual pouring functions as a code to symbolize desire or sensuality (Barthes. 20).  These features suggest the advisements promote the ideology that enticing but unhealthy food can satisfy women’s desires and aspirations. This not only exploits women, but it suggests that consumer culture is constructing unrealistic needs and expectations out of womens lives.

This communicated ideology is proved through the four ideological functions described in Goldman and Papson’s Advertising in the Age of Accelerated Meaning. First, these ads socially and culturally construct a world in which women can be empowered through consuming sugary treatsBy attaching the idea “individual freedom” to these sexualized products, the videos are using the tactic of “commodity feminism” (Goldman, Heath, & Smith. 338). For example, the slow motion and red curtains revealing the Lindt truffle signify an irresistible “luscious” desire. The audience is told that a bite of the chocolate turns into a moment of “passion.” The ad suggests that a woman is independently satisfied and empowered through the chocolate’s sensuality.

Dove chocolate also uses this tactic in a commercial by digitally altering a model’s face to look more like Audrey Hepburn. This movie star character chooses chocolate over the attractive man. By using a cultural figure who most women idolize, Dove attaches the meaning of feminism to their brand. When she puts the hat on the man and sits in the back of the car, she appears rebellious and independent from men.

In the Nespresso coffee video, Penelope Cruz tells the audience that her perfect café is where she “never has to compromise on anything.” By choosing this coffee, that is depicted to be more desirable than the young man holding it, the ad suggests that women do not need a man or to compromise for one when drinking Nespresso. These tactics exemplify marketers turning “feminist social goals to individual life-style” that can be purchased (Goldman, Heath, & Smith. 336).

Secondly, the ideology is told through the ads by disguising and suppressing inequalities, injustices, irrationalities and contradictions about nationalities (Goldman & Papson. 96)For example, the Nespresso ad exploits Penelope Cruz’s race by using the European stereotype to sell coffee to Americans. This tactic is described in Hook’s Eating the Other where “ethnicity becomes spice, seasons that can liven up the dull dish that is mainstream white culture” (366). Ignoring the fact that not all Europeans have a mediterranean look and accent like Penelope Cruz suggests that Nespresso is commodifying race to make their product appear international. Furthermore, Lindt sells their chocolate by attaching the Swiss origin to their brand, while Dove (an American brand) uses an Italian setting. These commercials communicate to their audience that diversity can be experienced through “eating” their products.

The third function, discussed by Goldman and Papson, is when the ads communicate a discourse that promotes a normative vision of our relationships (96). By exploiting women’s dreams and fantasies for a romantic relationship, the commercials suggest that the best relationships are through unhealthy consumption. The fourth way that these ads carry the ideology is by reflecting the logic of capital (Goldman and Papson. 96). The satisfaction depicted through the models smiling and closing their eyes in a sensual way (image below) suggests that this will be experienced through purchasing their product. The sense of satisfaction not only suggests sexual satisfaction, but also confirms the woman’s ultimate choice of product.


Women cannot really believe that chocolate or a cappuccino can give them the satisfaction of independence, do they? Unfortunately, they must! Most food ads targeted towards women utilize this ideology because it is working. Therefore, to expose the truths behind brands exploiting nationalities and women’s insecurities, I will create a spoof video titled “Eating Your Feelings.” The spoof video will consist of video similar to these examples. The first scene will consist of an exotic looking woman happily taking a bite into a piece of chocolate over a romantic sounding song. The voice over in the video will sensually say ‘happiness with every bite.’ The next scene will be a young woman sitting at the table covered in expensive chocolate and empty wrappers. Struggling to take another bite, she thinks aloud and questions ‘is this what “happiness with every bite” means?’ As the chocolate makes a mess, she looks sick and full of the amount of chocolate she just consumedFeeling no different than she did before, she just realizes that the ad on TV is a scam and is left with a melted chocolate bar in her hands.

The spoof video contrasts the lives depicted in the advertisements to the realities of consuming unhealthy snacks. The purpose of this spoof is to prove that a liberating and sensual experience cannot be attained through consumption. Using the common elements of these commercials (such as commodity racism, and commodity feminism) and then exposing the realities through twisted humor will hopefully explain that these companies exploit anything to trick us. The comedic part of the video will be that we all agree that the reality of eating a lot of chocolate is sickening, however, the viewer will also feel bad for the girl in the film, and will then learn not to listen to the advertisements. These companies are not interested in the happiness of women, instead interested in the money they spend hoping to achieve happiness. Vince Carducci explains this “‘meme’ warfare” technique as “culture jamming.” By applying my criques to an element of popular culture such as YouTube, my video will hopefully intersect the “consumer culture as a viable path to social change” (130). I would like my counter video to speak to women and tell them not be dissuaded into consuming overpriced, unhealthy products in an attempt to better your situationQuite the opposite of feminist independence, by associating themselves with commodities, the women of the ads are making themselves objects of consumption.


Semiotic & Creative Revolution Analysis – Farmed & Dangerous

Chipotle Farmed and Dangerous Official Trailer

The popular chain of Mexican-style food, Chipotle, has received international recognition for its organic ingredients and naturally raised meat. For a fast food chain, these ingredients are rarely found in chains such as Burger King and Taco Bell. Chipotle uses its unique approach to cooking in order to change peoples perception of fast food, and to stand out from its competitors. This is exemplified in the recent trailer for a web-series called, Farmed and Dangerous. The trailer is advertising a series that is all sponsored and curated by Chipotle. The Farmed and Dangerous trailer functions as a commodity sign that promotes Chipotle’s brand and ideologies by attaching it to the social and cultural value of a TV series on   

With almost 900,000 views, the 2:17 minute long trailer for Farmed and Dangerous is about a marketing firm protecting the image of a major farming corporation, Animoil. A farmer activist, Chris Randolph (played by John Sloan), reveals a video of cows exploding due to petroleum oil in the animal feed and tries to raise awareness about the industrial agriculture world. At the very end of the trailer “An Original Chipotle Series” with the Chipotle logo of a Chili is displayed over the series title, Farmed and Dangerous.

Within the first few seconds of the video, the ad carries ideologies in the four cases described in Goldman and Papson’s “Advertising in the Age of Accelerated Meaning.” First, the trailer constructs a negative representation of the industrial agriculture industry (95). Socially and culturally, the trailer exposes the chemicals and hormones used in the mass-produced and mass-consumed food. This is accomplished by using images of a dark and stormy Animoil factory as the signifier. The opening image signifies that the factory is evil. This is also communicated through the made up corporation name, Animoil, that is a combination of the words, animal and oil. The old men (played by Ray Wise and Eric Pierpoint) discuss the newest scientific experiment to put oil in livestock’s food, petro-pellets, which is the “biggest improvement in agriculture since synthetic growth hormones.” The connotative meaning of the older men in conversation signifies that they are corporate executives and are only interested in money. Throughout the two minutes, they make ignorant comments, threaten activists with guns and take photos in front of fake farms. This signifies that the corporations do not have our health or safety in their interest. Thus, Chipotle uses this trailer to attach negative notions about its competitors that include brands like Taco Bell or Wendy’s.

The second sense that the Farmed and Dangerous trailer carries Chipotle’s ideology about the agriculture industry is exemplified when the trailer disguises and suppresses inequalities and injustices (Goldman & Papson. 96). This is done by not specifying what fast food chains are associated with the industrial farm, Arminoil. It is important to note that the fast food chains these factory men are associated with could also refer to McDonalds, who is an investor in Chipotle. Additionally, the trailer hides the inequality regarding the fact that Chipotle’s food costs more than the food at fast food chains. Therefore, McDonalds could even endorse this trailer because the target audiences for each company are different.

The third case, discussed by Goldman and Papson, is when the ad is a discourse that promotes a normative vision of our world and relationships (96). By creating an ad that fits in the normal vision of TV entertainment, Chipotle incorporates its ideology into the popular culture of watching web-series; the ad is hidden beneath the normal activity of watching a TV trailer or series. The normative vision is achieved by structuring the Farmed and Dangerous trailer in the same way that is done by other popular TV trailers.  The dialogue jumps around to snippets of scenes and lines from the characters. The content of the dialogue is about exploding cows and protecting image of the large corporations. While the lines are from different episodes and characters, they communicate the message and plot of the web-series in two minutes in the same format as other TV series trailers. By rapidly changing the scenes to fast paced music, the trailer becomes more upbeat and comical. The cinematic structure could be compared to the structure of trailers for TV series such as HBO’s Suits (example below). The plot of the series is about an important issue, but it is lightened up by the romantic and comedic moods.

Without the Chipotle logo at the end of the trailer, a viewer may not notice that Farmed and Dangerous is advertising Chipotle. This could be because Chipotle is trying to reach the alienated spectator market. Young adults and children are the alienated spectators because they are jaded by the mass of advertisements in their lives. However, this market is attractive because when reached, the youth tend to be responsible for starting new trends and forming life-long loyalties to products based on their disposable income as dependents. In order to appeal to the youth, Chipotle attaches itself to a cultural and social values through intertextuality in the Farmed and Dangerous trailer. The trailer functions as a cultural intermediary between Chipotle’s suggested process of life and its target audience. The traditional format of a TV series trailer with renowned television celebrities such as Ray Wise and Kathryn Moore make the series more legitimate and signify a higher quality production because celebrities have high potential sign value (Goldman & Papson. 88). Furthermore, the higher the entertainment value, the better chances of Chipotle reaching the younger market.

The popularity of Netflix web-series such as Orange Is The New Black or House of Cards has become part of the youth culture. Consumers are spending more time on the computer than on TV, so Chipotle uses this trailer to communicate its brand through media self-referentiality (Goldman & Papson. 94). In order to reach an influential market with a disposable income, Chipotle subtly attaches its brand and message to the popular trend of binge watching on platforms of media such as YouTube and Hulu. This is a modern example of Bill Bernbach’s legacy of the Creative Revolution starting in the 1960’s. Chipotle is no longer advertising its actual products, instead, Chipotle is using creative power to push to change people’s perception of the industry and spend more money on its products. In addition to revolutionizing the industrial agriculture industry, the Farmed and Dangerous trailer is revolutionizing the way advertisements reach consumers by turning its ideology into entertaining content. This Chipotle ad stands out from other digital advertisements because people voluntarily watch and share it on Youtube, as opposed to evading pop ups or side bar digital advertisements. Even though it is partially owned by McDonalds, the image of this Chipotle advertisement is anti-establishment. The ad communicates Chipotle’s brand through self-aware cynicism about advertisements by putting down its competitors and entertaining its consumers by waiting to show the Chipotle logo at the end of the trailer.

By producing a trailer with intertextual references such as popular TV series and actors, Chipotle intends to fit in with other “cool” web-series watched by the younger demographic.  However, by attaching the Chipotle brand to the culture activity of “binge-watching,” subjects this to cannibalizing this cultural trend (Goldman & Papson.89). The Farmed and Dangerous trailer is an example of how advertisements take elements of our culture in order to appeal to a certain audience, and then destroy the cultural value by turning it into an advertisement. Furthermore, advertisements have become hegemonic; ads become part of culture in order to appeal to fragmented markets.

The Farmed and Dangerous trailer functions as a critique of mass-media and mass-consumerism, however Chipotle ultimately is using Franks theory of “anti-establishment magic” where it uses signals of anti-establishment in order to turn the masses into its own consumers. This is where the trailer displays the fourth way described by Goldman and Papson. The trailer is an ad that carries ideology through culture as it reflects the logic of capital (96). By functioning as a commodity sign with a strong message, the Farmed and Dangerous trailer gives the audience reason to purchase the organic products offered at Chipotle.


Historical Analysis: “Home Sweet Home”

Cute puppies, playing children, blissful adults and Rock-n-Roll? What more could a person want? These are all of things that Coldwell Banker Real Estate captured in their TV commercial which premiered during the 2014 Grammy Awards. The advertisement syncs slow-motion video clips with Motley Crue’s song “Home Sweet Home” to evoke appreciation for the things we love, particularly cultural reference that music fans of all ages can relate to.

‪While one might call this video “cute” or “fun,” what does it have to do with Coldwell Banker? The advertisement is a striking example of a cultural intermediary, because it serves as a means to attach meaning to a rather inanimate object like a corporate real estate company (47).

‪The message the ad evokes is that Coldwell Banker can help you live a happy, leisurely lifestyle like the ones displayed on TV. A lifestyle is “temporary affinities between persons who share a set of tastes and complementary values” (90). Therefore, pairing images of daily family activities with fun music suggests that a desirable lifestyle necessitates the simple pleasure of having a comfortable home. The diverse range of actors in the video represent the universal appreciation of the home. In a consumer culture, any real estate company could sell a home; however, this ad creates a Coldwell Banker lifestyle by connecting shared family experiences with their brand. Because the company is nationwide, the homes do not have any geographical details and are unmarked to say that anyone in the US can live like these people.

The brand name is not mentioned until the very end of the minute-long video. The first 55 seconds of the ad are the transformational function of the ad, while the end is the informational function. Coldwell Banker is trying to transform people’s preconceived ideas of real estate into something new and different. People generally may have never associated real estate with music prior to this commercial. By providing their company logo at the end, the ad’s functions are emotional and simultaneously informational. The choice of music instantly attracts the 30-55 year olds that associate with Motley Crue. Also, the combination of the song and images can warm the hearts of all ages, because they are selling the emotional aspect of home ownership.

It is now 2014, and we are coming out of an economic crisis. People have gone through hardships of foreclosures and scaling down living costs. We are transitioning out of the hard times, yet people are still conservative with their spending habits. Therefore, this ad displays that today’s society can begin to recover financially, even though people are less focused on excessive materials and more focused on friends and family. People have had to work more hours, and thus appreciate the time spent at home. The ad suggests that you deserve these rewards of homeownership and Coldwell Banker can help you attain it.

In conclusion, instead of using fear to convince audience the need for Coldwell Banker’s real estate services, this advertisement has many elements of effective contemporary advertisements. Coldwell Banker is experiencing the challenge of an oversaturated advertising environment that occurred during the 1990’s. Audiences are exposed to so many advertisements that companies need to use tactics like soft-selling products. The ad focuses less on their brand and more on the entertainment using music and positive images of dogs and families. Coldwell Banker ads are typically placed in networks such as HGTV or Food Network. In this case, using music during the Grammy’s to stand out from its competitors makes a lot of sense. Being a corporate company, people may think that their real estate services might cost ‪more than an independent agency. Therefore, this ad is trying to rebuild their likeability and say that their agency is worth the extra cost because the results will help you get to your dream lifestyle at home.



Leiss, William, Stephen Kline, and Jackie Botterill. Social Communication in Advertising Consumption in the Mediated Marketplace. New York: Routledge, 2005. Print.

Home Sweet Home

This video is a TV commercial for Coldwell Banker Real Estate that was played during the 2014 Grammy Awards. The minute long ad features Motley Crue’s signature song, “Home Sweet Home,” played over a series of video clips of families and their pets returning to their homes.

What made this advertisement so memorable was that it was unlike any other real estate commercial; you didn’t know what was being advertised until the very end. With the upbeat Rock song, and heartwarming slow motion pictures, I was under the impression that the ad was for a car or a music product like Bose Speakers.

The award show was full of young pop music performances. This resulted in a majority of advertisements targeted towards teens and music fans. I saw commercials for Beats by Dr. Dre, CoverGirl with Katy Perry, and Chevy with John Legend. While these brands are not all music related, they have a young target market and have a presence in popular culture. Therefore, a real estate firm investing money to advertise during the Grammys seemed a little out of place and stood out to me.

What I learned from the commercial was that a national company like, Coldwell Banker, is looking to market to a new demographic by broadcasting on the Grammys. They chose scenes of people of all different ages and the classic Motley Crue song to appear hip, or cool. Licensing this song and airing the commercial during the Grammy Awards must have been costly for their company, although they must expect it to be worth the investment. This could perhaps suggest a change in the real estate economy.

After some research I found that the Coldwell Banker SVP, Sean Blankenship believes that “music and home certainly go together no matter where you are in the world and we believe we have found the appropriate major events to showcase the emotional value we place in our homes.” I feel that using this song turned a common (and boring) advisement on networks like HGTV into a fun, and entertaining moment during the Grammys.